Call a Thousand, Only One Reaches
Birthday of Japanese Haiku Poet Issa
Born on 15 June 1763 in Kashiwabara, Kobayashi Issa was a Japanese haiku poet and a Buddhist priest. He adopted his pen name Issa in 1793 meaning “a cup of tea” or “a single bubble in steeping tea”. Out of a life full of tragic adversity, he wrote thousands of haiku – providing a sympathetic and poetic tone to everyday mundane things of life, even to something as infinitesimally relevant as a fly. Issa’s work was composed of simple and unembellished language, capturing the sorrow and presenting an awareness of the human consciousness.
At the tender age of 14, Issa went on to study haiku in Edo to get away from his home filled with disagreements and altercations with his stepmother. He returned over a decade later, only to find himself in a legal dispute over his father’s inheritance, who passed away shortly after he returned. Issa rarely got consistent bliss in his life; his next struggle encompassed the demise of his first wife, a failed second marriage, and his short-lived life with his third betrothed and unborn child. Embodying all this, Issa wrote several poetry and prose pieces including Journal of My Father’s Last Days and The Year of My Life.
Osho talks about Issa, “Perhaps he was writing for you. Just watch this tranquility, this coolness — I have nothing at all. But to have such tranquility and such coolness, you don’t need anything. You have all! You have the whole universe within you — in the dewdrop the whole ocean, in the seed the whole greenery of the earth.
“I have nothing at all” — Issa is right. He does not possess anything, but a great tranquility surrounds him, and this coolness that penetrates deep into the very center of your being. That tranquility is present here, and that coolness is possible to be felt by you.
Issa has put the whole of Zen into a small haiku.
I HAVE NOTHING AT ALL —
BUT THIS TRANQUILITY!
THE RETURN IS ENTIRELY A PERSONAL AFFAIR. EVEN A VERY NEAR ONE CANNOT UNDERSTAND. IT IS ACTUALLY EASILY POSSIBLE ONLY FOR THOSE WHO HAVE SUFFERED. BUT, LORD, YOU ARE CALLING ALL. IS IT POSSIBLE FOR THEM TO HEAR YOU CALL YOUR CALL OF LOVE?
That is not the point. Whether they hear it or not is not the point: I should go on calling. They may be deaf, but I am not dumb. If they don’t listen I will have to call more loudly, that’s all.
And when you call a thousand, only a hundred will listen. One can never know who the hundred will be.
You call a thousand — a hundred will listen. The very nature of the call is such that only those who are just near awakening can listen to it. Only those whose sleep is almost complete, who are nearing the morning and are getting ready to wake — only they can listen.
But you cannot see who those will be.
Call a thousand: a hundred will listen and only ten will start moving. Ninety will listen and still will not move. They will listen but they will not understand or they will understand something else — or they will misunderstand. Ten will start moving. And when ten move, only one reaches; nine will be lost on the way. Call a thousand and you have called only one. But this is how things are, so one has to go on calling. So I don’t bother a bit whether you listen or not — I go on calling. One is bound to come and that’s enough. If you call a thousand and one comes, if you call ten thousand and ten come, that’s enough. One should not ask for more; that is already too much. You are right that only those who have suffered will be able to understand me. Pain purifies, suffering gives understanding. Suffering gives a certain crystallization: unless you suffer you don’t know what life is, unless you suffer you don’t know how difficult it is to get out of life.
I was reading the life of a great Japanese poet, Issa. He suffered. He must have been a very, very sensitive man: he was a great poet, he’s one of the greatest haiku poets. When he was only thirty he had already lost his five children; five children had died by the time he was thirty — almost every year a child died. Then his wife died and he was almost completely mad — in anguish, in suffering.
Issa went to a Zen Master. The Zen Master asked, “What is the problem?” The Zen Master must have been almost like a Buddha, not like Jesus. One who has attained but one who has completely forgotten human misery.
Issa said, “My five children are dead and now my wife is dead. Why is there so much suffering? I can’t see the reason for it. What is the explanation? I have not done anything wrong to anybody, I have lived as innocently as possible. In fact I have lived very much aloof. I’m not very related to people — I’m a poet, I live in my own world. I have not done anything wrong to anybody. I have lived a very poor life, but I was happy. Now suddenly my five children are gone, my wife is also gone — why is there so much suffering, and for no reason? There must be an explanation.”
The Zen Master said, “Life is just like a dew-drop in the morning. It is the nature of life that death happens. There is no explanation; it is the nature of life. There is no need for any special reason to be given. Life’s nature is like a dew-drop: it hangs for a while on a leaf of grass; a small breeze and it is gone; the sun rises and it evaporates. That is the nature of life. Remember that.”
Issa was a man of deep intelligence. He understood it. He came back and he wrote a haiku. The haiku means: Life, a dew-drop? Yes, I understand. Life is a dew-drop. Yet… and yet….
In that ‘yet… and yet…’ he’s saying something superbly human. “Life is a dew-drop — I understand. And yet….” The wife is gone, the children are gone and the eyes are full of tears:’ and yet… and yet….’
“Yes, life is a dew-drop, but….” And that ‘but’ is great. Only those who have suffered can understand that life is a dew-drop, but even then — ‘yet, and yet’ remains. Even when you understand, understanding is difficult. And those who have not suffered, what to say of them? They live a superficial life. Happiness is always superficial; it has no depth to it. Only sadness has depth. Life is superficial; only death has depth. Life is very ordinary: eating, earning, loving — very ordinary. Suffering has a depth; it awakens you, it shocks you out of your sleep.
Yes, only those who have suffered will understand what I’m saying. ‘And yet, and yet’ — even they may not understand. But this is so, this is how life is. If one becomes despondent because of this and thinks not to call, not to say anything….
It happened: when Buddha became enlightened, he remained silent for seven days. He thought, “Who will listen?” He thought, “What am I going to say? Who will understand? ” He thought, “The things that have happened to me — if somebody had told them to me when they had not happened to me, even I would not have understood. So who will understand? Why bother? “
For seven days he sat and sat and sat under the Bodhi Tree. Tradition says that the DEVAS in heaven became very disturbed. “Why is he keeping quiet? Only after thousands of years does one become enlightened. Why is he not calling people?”
They came — a beautiful story. They bowed down to Buddha and said, “You should say something. You have attained; you should give the call. The word should spread to people — why are you keeping quiet? We waited and waited. Seven days looked like seven centuries. What are you doing? — don’t waste time. You will only be for a little while more and then you will disappear forever and ever. Before you disappear, give a call.”
Buddha said, “Who will listen? Who will understand? “
But those DEVAS were very cunning. And it is good that they were cunning. They argued, they persuaded. They said, “Yes, you are right. Rare — rare is the possibility of someone’s listening, and rarest is the possibility of someone understanding. But it is there. Call a thousand: a hundred will listen, ninety will not understand; ten will walk, nine will be lost on the way. Somewhere or other they will think that they have achieved; they will sit by the side and they will think they have come home. Only one will arrive — but one is more than enough.”
Buddha understood. He started preaching. I know it is a very hopeless effort. Knowing well that you will not understand, I go on talking to you. It is as if one is talking to a wall. When Bodhidharma became enlightened he was sitting near a wall, his back to the wall. Immediately he turned and faced the wall. For nine years he would not sit in any other way. Whenever he would sit, he would face the wall. If somebody was there — an inquirer, a seeker — he would have to ask his questions from the back.
People asked, “What foolish posture have you chosen? There have been many Buddhas in the world but nobody has sat facing the wall. Why are you sitting this way? Why are you so crazy?”
Bodhidharma said, “As far as I know, all the Buddhas have been facing walls” — because wherever you look, there is a wall. That’s not the point.”
Bodhidharma would say, “They all have faced walls but they were a little more polite.” He would say, “I’m not so polite, that’s all. I don’t bother a bit what you think of me. I will turn my face towards you only when I see that someone is there who can understand me.”
For nine years he faced the wall. Then one man came. The man said, “Turn towards me or I will kill myself” — he had a sword in his hand. Still Bodhidharma wouldn’t turn. He cut off his hand and said, “Look, the hand is gone. The second thing will be the head.”
Then Bodhidharma turned. He said, “Wait! So you have come” — because only those who are ready to behead themselves can understand.
This is an excerpt from the transcript of a public discourse by Osho in Buddha Hall, Shree Rajneesh Ashram, Pune.
Discourse Series: Come Follow To You, Vol 1
Chapter title: Moving towards Christhood
30 October 1975 am in Buddha Hall
Osho has spoken extensively on ‘art, music, painting, poetry, dance,’ and creative geniuses like Picasso, Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Salvador Dali, Bach, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Mozart, Wagner, Pt. Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Ali Khan, Tansen, Byron, Bhavabhuti, Coleridge, Dinkar, D.H. Lawrence, Ghalib, John Ruskin, Kalidas, Kahlil Gibran, Keats, Milton, Nijinsky, Omar Khayyam, Shelley, Tagore, Yeats and many more in the course of His talks. More on this subject can be referred to in the following books/discourse titles:
- Ah This
- Be Still and Know
- Beyond Psychology
- Come Follow to You Vol.1-4
- The Guest
- Going All the Way
- This Is It
- The Book of Wisdom
- The Path of the Mystic
- A Sudden Clash of Thunder
- The Last Testament, Vol 2
- From Personality to Individuality
- Zarathustra: A God That Can Dance
- The Dhammapada: The Way of the Buddha, Vol 10
- From Bondage to Freedom